My Ph.D.

March 22, 2017

How I Obtained It

Revised 3 July 2017

Thanks to my habit of perpetual self-examination, surveys and quizzes can attract me when they might show something about me that I did not recognize or have doubted in the past. Some of these curiosity provokers have come on Facebook. Although my current time on Fb is now infrequent and irregular, I recently went back to it to post an experience stumbled on from Bing listings.

“Can we guess your highest education level” it begged, “in 10 questions?” Well 10 turned into something in the high seventies. My first try wound up aborted after a slow connection with my responses whether correct or incorrect and a subsequent explanation why. But the invitation showed up again on 9 March 2017, that morning. This time we managed to reach all the way through. I had failed on one question, which I do not remember, and with a score of 98% equivalent to a Ph.D.

Thanks a lot: you have boosted my ego. However, I do not really have that degree. Consequently, I went to explain on Facebook.

No, I do not have a Ph.D., but an M.A. in Library Science and some further graduate courses in history, humanities, and library services. Instead, I have read continuously since third grade and pursued several research projects while attempting to keep up to date with matters that are not trivial. I am a member of the Minnesota Independent Scholars Forum. Two questions were not precisely correct, but I chose the closest acceptable answer.

Though some questions may have been tricky, very few of them took a lot of thought or levels of expertise beyond general knowledge. Questions came mostly from the fields of culture, history, literature, or science. Probably, I could have answered a majority when in high school or at least prior to graduate school.

Here are the first ten questions and why I got them right. An x marks the correct answer.

  1. In what Shakespeare tragedy does Ophelia appear? Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, xHamlet. I did not read Hamlet or see a stage performance of it until into my sixties, but did see the film (1996). When I read and saw Hamlet, I was surprised how familiar the play became. I had read a Classic Comic Book of it in my early teens, but the rest came from many past years of dialogue and character reiterations.
  2. The first World War ended in … x1918, 1945, 1944, 1888 I fell in love with history at 15, subsequent to enjoying historical novels. In college, I majored in history. Dates to me are rudimentary markers – 4 B.C.E., 476, 800, 1066, 1453, 1485, 1492, 1603, 1620, 1776, etc.
  3. What does H stand for in H2O? Helium, Hydration, Halogen, xHydrogen. People frequently use H20 as a synonym for water. How much more basic can you get than that?
  4. What is the capitol of Kenya? Accra, Addis Ababa. Lagos, xNairobi. In college, my cluster of friends played a lot of general knowledge games, one of which asked for the capitals of foreign countries. Besides that, almost every movie that features Kenya in some respect relates to Nairobi.
  5. Frogs belong to which of these animal groups? xAmphibians, Reptiles, Invertebrates, Mammals When I was pre-school, we had a small swamp at the back of a neighboring lot, full of tadpoles that became frogs. I think I knew what an amphibian was since then, thanks to my Dad who seemed to know everything. Of course, I also had 10th grade biology, where Mr. Espeland had us memorize each phylum in its sequence so we could recite them.
  6. True or false: the Soviet Union was a U.S. enemy in WWII? xFalse. Born in 1940, I had four uncles in the war and we had Life magazine at our house. I remember the pictures of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin sitting down together at Yalta.
  7. What language has the most native speakers? Hindi, English, xMandarin Chinese, Spanish. While English may be the most widely spoken, not all are native speakers, and Hindi is only one of hundreds of languages in India; it’s China that has the largest population.
  8. How many chambers are there in the human heart? Three, xFour, Two, One 10th grade biology once more to the rescue. Besides, I have minor reverse blood flow into the left ventricle from the vascular system.
  9. “Call Me Ishmael” is the opening line of which American novel? xMoby Dick, by Herman Melville; Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck; Catch-22, by Joseph Heller; Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Though I’ve owned a copy of Moby Dick since Junior High, I have yet to read all the chapters, but I have read the beginning, seen the film (1956), and know the symbolic meaning of Ishmael.
  10. How many events are there in a decathlon? 12, 6, 3, x10. While I know next to nothing about sports, I had two years of Latin in high school and a semester of Cicero in college. Ten is English for deca in Latin taken from deka in Greek (transliterated), which appears in decade, Decalogue, decahedron, decapod, etc.

Besides seeming easy to anyone who is paying attention, multiple choice questions aid answering correctly when one knows when the wrong choices do not fit the question asked but are true for something else. Perhaps the trickiest question was asking which element is most plentiful in the atmosphere. The proclivity may to answer oxygen which we need but it’s nitrogen. Too much oxygen would burn us up.

Also, it helps to be older with more opportunity for the accumulation and refreshing of knowledge.

The online company that forwards these “fun” questionnaires is Topix, founded in 2002, which at the start aggregated news into various categories or topics. They subsequently created content and other amusements. Offbeat is the subsidiary for this particular quiz and others. See also www.topix.com. A general article appears on Wikipedia as Topix (website).


Travel Times

March 15, 2017

An Update on What’s New or Recent?

Updated 5 July 2017

We leave in 3 days for a warmer experience in Tucson where we have never been. We always drive to see more country. This time the stops along the way from Maplewood MN are Emporia KS, Amarillo TX, and Las Cruces NM. We’ve gone several winters to San Antonio TX, but we decided for something different. We’ll be gone for three weeks.

Since relocating in Maplewood six years ago, we have heightened our time with our children and grandchildren. Each of us lives about 20 miles from the other two, forming the points of a triangle We try to have a family gathering every Sunday evening but that at times does not work thanks to a multiplicity of activities. We have been active in Pilgrim Lutheran in Saint Paul where our son, Kristo(fer), has recently ended his term on the Church Council.

Benjamin, 24 in July, continues with Epic and lives in Madison WI with Carol Daniels, together through high school, university, and after. They are marrying on August 20. Anna, 21 in July, finished her Junior year at St Olaf college with study in London for 10 weeks and 7 more in Florence, living with an Italian family to learn the language and spending her time with 97 museums.

Hannah, 16 going on 30, continues as a competitive Irish dancer plus all of her other pursuits such as joining the Young Democrats once she got to high school. The twins, now 11, continue in Minnesota Boychoir, Irish dance, and are learning classical guitar besides French horn (Austin) and cello (Henry). Their birthdays are all in November. They all read a lot.

Of course, Pat and I have felt besieged by the past and current political season. We follow a lot of analysis but it is hard for us to believe that so many could be so astray from good sense and democratic foundations and values. I am at odds with myself over the rising tide of selfish desire and authoritarianism. What bothers me the most is the seeming openness to learning and loss of education.

At 77 years, I feel the loss of relevant time. So many things are yet to be finished, at least to my satisfaction.

In the midst of all this furious quandary, we took the proverbial trip of a lifetime, two years in the planning. In 2014, we signed up for a Viking Cruise 15-day tour of the Baltic. Since we would leave from Bergen and end in Stockholm, we decided to spend time before and after in Norway.

The Vikings had an expression that goes like this –

Benre dem som vandar finn nye vagar. Only one who wanders finds new paths.

We found populations in metro areas are mixed. European countries have been receiving immigrants for many years. Today’s refugee situation has accelerated this mixture. New populations come from the Middle East and Africa, as well as India and Asia. Also with the European Union, Europeans are on the move, often for better employment, but also tourism. Although European tourists generally make their individual way, organized busloads of Japanese tourists are most noticeable. We saw one group tour of Indonesians.

Because Europe has a much longer history of settlement, it has more to show and therefore more to preserve. The oldest surviving church in Bergen is Mariakirken (St. Mary’s Church) that replaced an earlier unfinished church on the site beginning about 1130. Though made of stone, it suffered various fires. When the Hanseatic League was a force in Bergen, Germans took over the church in the 1400s, and German-language services continued until after WWI. Today the Bergen Anglican Church holds English language services there. More modest older buildings are protected with metal or tile roofs. Old town areas of historic interest maintain their cobble streets. Roads are built with stone aggregate and seem new although roads in more rural areas are narrow to one lane with pull off points when meeting oncoming traffic. In Demark, half the population gets to work on bicycles.

Noted preservation includes wooden stavkirken so called because of their corner posts. At one time thousands existed throughout northern Europe, Norway had at least a thousand; perhaps as many as two thousand. Today 28 remain in Norway.

Though Pat and I have Norwegian ancestry, and know lite grand norske, we intended to learn more before our trip. However, that did not happen. Instead, almost everywhere we went we encountered fluent speakers of English. Even some who apologized for their English did well. Since WWII, English has been taught in schools (along with other languages). I was most surprised with the prevalence of reading material, the number of book stores, and English language material. A lot of this was the standard noted authors – but with surprises. One of the first was a title that jumped out at me: Tatt av vinden, that is – Gone with the wind. English language books included those for children and other special collections. The very large store at the Oslo International Airport had a Krim section and next to it in English a Crime section.

Thanks to English we had conversations, not only with our native tour guides, but also with airlines, car rentals, wait staff in restaurants, hotel desk clerks, bus drivers, museum attendants. When we visited the Urnes stav church, the guide answered a question in Norwegian only when it had been asked in Norwegian and then said it again in English.

We gained a different perspective on party politics because most of the countries have a parliamentary system in which the prime minister is elected by the parliament. Four major parties seemed a common number – Denmark currently has nine. Consequently no one has a majority and they have to bargain with one another if they want to accomplish anything. We don’t recognize the need for compromise, especially today.

Europeans are interested in U.S. politics, as shown in their media. Trump received a lot of coverage there. On board our dinner companions wanted to talk about this crazy guy. By accident, we sat one evening next to Robert Donaldson, who is an authority on international politics, and advises the state and defense departments. He wondered aloud with us as to issues related to one presidential candidate and whether the military would object to some of his potential orders.

Were we in Oslo twice. Once when we landed and transferred to a plane to Bergen. And at the end of the cruise when we took a train from Stockholm to Oslo for a few days before we went on to Sogndahl.

We were astounded by its airport which sprawls for a long distance, looks like a super mall and is full of convivial people all very well dressed in a business casual way and one person with a tie – me. When we came back to Oslo from Stockholm, we were in line for the next day’s big event. By sheer accident, we were in Oslo for Norway’s Constitution Day – Syttende Mai, the 17th of May. Norway.

It is the big dress up day, and now the ties are out on every man and boy. And a large portion of the celebrants wear their bunader. The biggest event is of course in Oslo. And we joined in. A group of police lead the way from the start up Karl Johans Gade to the palace. They carry flags but not guns. Everyone carries flags, especially the children who follow. Every school child from Oslo and surrounding area make up the parade, some have bands, but most shout slogans. No guns, no fire engines or tractors, no fireworks – just children taking up their sense of patriotism.

A large crowd assembles at the palace and at an appointed time the king and the royal family come out on the second floor balcony. The audience sings the national anthem – Jeg Vi Elsker dette landet/ Yes, we love this land. King Harald, as his father Olaf, and grandfather Haakon before him, waves to the crowd, the crowd waves back, cheers, and waves their flags. He and his family keep this going for the five hours it takes.

Following these festivities, people have picnics. We met Ole friends – Kari Berit from Red Wing and John Chaplin who married last summer and lived then on the peninsula south of Oslo – and went by ferry and bus to their house. His daughters and a boyfriend joined and we had the traditional fare featuring shrimp on bread slices. When we returned to our hotel, we noted that other neighbors were also having picnics.

Subsequently we flew to a more rural area, Sogndal, a community of 10,000 of whom 2,000 are students. We chose this stop because three of our ancestral families came from this area. With our rented car we made side trips into the surrounding area.

One day we went to Fjaerland which includes the National Glacier Museum. The museum is on the fringe of the Jostedalen Ice Cap, the largest glacier in continental Europe. The museum features glacier-related experiences including a multiscreen 20-minute view of the glacier as experienced by skiers, hikers, and ice-climbers. Then our crawl through a simulated ice cave under a glacier – not a comfortable feeling – and a very thorough display on Otzi, the freeze-dried man from 5300 years ago found in the Alps in September 1991.

Another reason for going to Fjaerland is that it is Norway’s Book Town. When commerce came to an end there, an entrepreneur established a used book business in 8 or 9 rehabilitated buildings, otherwise abandoned. In total there are 8 linear miles of books on display. We looked at a few.

Within Fjaerland is another community, Mundahl. Pat’s maternal grandfather’s grandmother came from this area. Brithe Mundal she was, born in 1854. After lunch at the Hotel Mundal, we went across the road to the church and its graveyard and read every stone, but found no one we could link to. Another descendant from the Mundal area is former Vice President Mondale. He has visited in the area and is very highly respected in Sogndal.

One other day we went to Balestrand which meant taking a ferry across a fjord finger. Balestrand in the late 19th and early 20th century was a noted resort for wealthy travelers of the time. Kaiser Wilhelm was an annual visitor for several years including 1913, his last. We ate in the hotel where he had stayed.

Sogndal where we had based for these few days was on the inner reach of the Sognefjord, Norway’s longest and deepest fjord. When we left, we took a high speed ferry the length of the fjord back to Bergen in a little over four hours.

In summary, a few words about “the trip of a lifetime.” It was horribly costly which deterred me. Yet, I consented on account that it would be out of our systems. The exposure to Europe had great benefits, chiefly how patriotism is understood in Norway, how technology and the arts have replaced manufacturing, how multiple party systems have been able to work as a coalition, how multi-lingual many Europeans are – at least in metropolitan areas. And how impressive reading appears with the wide availability of bookstores and material in other outlets. Not to be forgotten, how conscious people are of history and historic preservation.

_____

Previously posted 30 January 2017 on the Saint Olaf College Alumni Directory: Class Page 1962.(1962) where access requires registration as an Ole.


My Favorites

March 15, 2017

Determining What I Favor

Revised 3 July 2017

In the 2016 holiday season’s exchange of letters, one family covered the year’s passing by every family member listing their favorites in a series of categories. This is clever and interesting, I thought, as I began to read the choices made by two parents and their three children. Novel and fresh this approach may be; however, at once none of it made sense to me. Possibly due to the divide of generations and their interests, their choices were outside my range of knowledge and attention.

Why was that? What would I say when taking the same approach?

Time to explore where I am.

SONG: First off, music plays a very large part in my life. Though I cannot perform in any medium except when I sing in a group, at church being the best example. I know dozens, if not more than a hundred hymns by heart. I sing best when endeavoring to blend with the true tones around me. Still, my major role remains being the audience, an attentive listener. I never missed a vocal or instrumental performance when in high school, listened to popular music on WDGY when young, and fell in with the music crowd when at St. Olaf. Though I am fond of a wide range of music, I prefer the classical repertoire that began with attention to WCAL (the St. Olaf radio station) when young. I spent part of my newspaper route earnings on a classical subscription club that supplied 331/3 rpm recordings.

When in my 50s, someone asked me to name my favorite song. I was taken aback: I had to think for about a minute because, for the first time, I realized I had no favorite. First off, what did the questioner mean by “song?” Something with words that is sung, I supposed. Songs, part of the music in my life, could hardly be ranked: either I liked them or did not. Because I enjoy a wide array of composers – J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and others at the top careening with one another – how could I distinguish a favorite? What function would a favorite have? The idea of a favorite seemed exclusionary to me.

Perhaps if the question asked, “What piece of music captured you this past year?” I could answer: “Bach’s Resurexit from the B Minor Mass,” or “Gounod’s Missa Solemnelle,” or “Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration,” or “Orff’s Carmina Burana” – musics happening to me in the past that I cannot get over. These are just a few examples among more than many.

Likely my inability to fill in the song slot is that in general, I have separated myself from popular music since the days when MTV went sour. Get the Knack (1979) is the last lp I listened to repeatedly. I fail to find any attraction in Minnesotans Bob Dylan (boring and unmusical) or Prince (better left to the young).

MOVIE: The first film I saw that made a huge impression on me was The Search (1948). Then there was Quo Vadis (1951), followed by Member of the Wedding (1952), The 5,000 Fingers of Doctor T (1953), and Desk Set (1957). I definitely have my favorites among films and can even more easily rank them based on how well they fulfill my expectations for captivating interest, positive value, execution, and most importantly flow, by which I mean the pace and necessity of each scene in sequence. The movies that I favor the most are those that have impact on me and that I never tire of watching repeatedly.

For movies, it is easier to link them to a year than is the case for songs or music.

In 2015, the films I liked the best were Bridge of Spies and Woman in Gold. Though both films have great merit, Bridge is better done because of the strength of the central characters – the spy and his attorney – and because of the strong drama of the importance of the unpopular spy case and its coincident relationship to the exchange of political prisoners.

In 2016, the films I liked most have been Sully and Arrival. Bridge and Sully link due to the major role of Tom Hanks in both, a wide ranging and excellent actor. Bridge attracts me because it is mostly a story carried out by committed characters and their carefully considered words though the historical background is argumentative, if not contentious. Arrival won my admiration because it features a character of few words whose role is one of memory and breakthrough thinking in the midst of what is popularly considered an alien invasion. In actuality, it is the fourteen receiving countries who in the undertow of the story become alienated from one another, quite a lesson to learn in a hostile election year. Arrival caught me so strongly, I had to buy a copy of Ted Chiang’s collection of short stories that includes “The Story of Your Life,” source of the screenplay. His story differs from the film in being internal and full of theory.

TV SHOW: Sorry, but I am very limited here. Basically, I quit watching most commercial television when CBS news went from an hour to 30 minutes or fewer. For some years, I still watched 60 Minutes, but I don’t do that anymore either. The last long serial, I watched was Mary Hartman/Mary Hartmann (1976-1977) which had its bizarre attractions. But when it ended, I decided that was enough addictive watching. Over the years since, several series have come and gone without me witnessing a single episode. Another separation from television watching is that when Pat had cancer more than a decade ago, we started watching Netflix by disc. We continue to do so with something like 1400 movies watched. This habit became our chief way of catching up with new releases plus watching older and foreign offerings.

I confess: we are addicted to Game of Thrones. That is to say, we have become followers of the dwindling Stark family, who have shrunk in number but increased in strength. I never cared much for George R. R. Martin or his writing which in the 1970s had too much razzle-dazzle for me. I was already gone on Le Guin at that time anyway. Otherwise we turn to Turner Classic Movies for what we think we’d like or watch public television being fond of Morse, Lewis, Vera, Masterpiece Theater, Masterpiece Classic, and most especially and necessarily the news hour. Alongside, we spend a lot of hours listening to Minnesota Public Radio’s news and broadcasts of classics.

BOOK: Anyone who knows me knows that I am addicted to books and reading. Besides that, my strongest desire is to author a book that entirely satisfies me. I find myself indebted to books for my present and continued state of learning which concomitantly includes understanding oneself to the extent I have so far achieved. Certainly, books have surrounded me since birth thanks to the parents being readers and reading to me. I have been associated with books as their fan, as a professional librarian, and as an aspiring learner and writer.

I appreciate books for what they convey through the artistic and/or formative worth of expressed words. With so many thousands of new books each year, I favor the ones that cover in one way or another the varied fields of knowledge, especially those of philosophical, theoretical, or values-oriented approaches. Such books are worth long-time use and worth reading more than once. Unfortunately, I manage to reread few of them among the 6,000 plus that I have.

Of books read in 2015, the one that means the most to me is Penelope Lively’s Dancing Fish and Ammonites: a memoir (2013). Though a slow starter, I appreciated in a most welcoming fashion Lively’s reflections on aging and the effective values of words, literature, and books.

In 2016, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Complete Orsinia (2016) includes all her works related to the imagined middle-European country of Orsinia. The bulk of this Library of America (series #281) consists of two sizeable works, Orsinian Tales (1976) and Malafrena (1979) besides a few other additions. With Le Guin, my favorite imaginative author, reading her is not so much the deep stories told as much as it is her ingenuity of writing in ways that catch the emotions, ideas, and appreciation of artistry as very few authors have achieved. She has become my consistent favorite.

In writing to my friend of almost 45 years – Cy Chauvin –  I raved to him concerning the strong influence that Le Guin has on me. In our end of the year exchange of books, he sent to me Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter (2016). In her collection of “writings about life and books,” covering publications of essays, articles, and book reviews from 2000 into 2016, she explores the territory of language and the conveyance of telling and relating to story. At nearly 90 years, she is wonderfully alive and wise in her writing. She says on the book jacket, “Hard times are coming … We’ll need writers who can remember freedom.”

GAME: I don’t play games unless you count making up genealogies as a game.

THINGS DONE: Since relocating in Maplewood in early 2011 after 35 years in Red Wing, we have been heavily involved in our usual roster of causes and preferences. These include chauffeuring our younger grandchildren around and attending their performances in theater, music and dance. We also support the programs of Pilgrim Lutheran Church which currently involve serving on the Leadership Team for supporting a refugee family in 2017. Otherwise, I continue being the administrator for Classics for Pilgrim, the monthly discussion of mostly novels, published between 1800 and 50 years past. We are now in our sixth season.

I have regular routines. I do a fair amount of writing or the background work to writing – the necessary work towards novel construction and completion. In our eleventh year, Beverly Voldseth and I meet monthly to read aloud the poems in Poetry and talk about them. I bicycle when the weather favors me. I have longish telephone conversations with Robert Hanson, my friend from third grade onwards, and we meet about 2-3 times a year, especially when he has some poetry or other writing needing editing.

Mary Treacy and I email frequently, and get together for coffee when we can or really need to talk. I correspond with a few other people, but especially with my siblings in a round robin email letter. That’s about once a month.

One measure of this year is the net gain of 165 titles in my library. Also I added about 8,000 individuals in 3,000 marriages to my background genealogies furnishing The Company of Seidor and other related novels.

Another achievement of importance was the trip of a lifetime, May in Norway and the Baltic ports, which I report in a separate article.